In that context, I was interested to see PacoVilla's Corrections Blog recently lamenting possible pay cuts for California prison guards because of that state's budget crisis (coupled with looming federal court judgments). California guards are the highest paid in the nation, and interestingly, the main argument Paco offers in favor of high pay is reduced contraband smuggling by guards:
Notwithstanding the utter scorn the media has for California CPO's, even our harshest critics must acknowledge the effect high wages have had on staff involved contraband trafficking. Consider the FACT that Texas CO's rank 47th in the pay scale and HIGHEST in the illicit tobacco trade.If higher pay appreciably boosted professionalism and reduced smuggling among Golden State guards, that's the opposite trend from what we've seen in Texas. In fact, we learn from one of Paco's links that California's penalties are actually much more lenient toward contraband smugglers:
IN ANY CASE, whether pay enhances professionalism, security, retention rates or anything else, the handwriting is on the wall: CPO's have pretty much hit the ceiling. The days of wine and roses are long gone, friends.
Welcome the era of whine and poses.
Prison employees can lose their jobs but there’s almost no chance of a criminal prosecution. Unlike states such as Texas — where providing tobacco to prisoners is a felony — the California statute considers it a misdemeanor and doesn’t lay out specific punishments.That indicates to me that, contrary to the conversation at the Senate committee today, there's little relationship between harsher punishments for smuggling and reducing its frequency in prisons. Besides, Inspector General John Moriarty told the committee that Texas juries are unlikely to convict guards of smuggling offenses even when prosecutors decide to pursue charges.
As our friends at the Back Gate have frequently reported, at some Texas prison units the smuggling problem is epidemic, despite our guards facing much harsher criminal penalties than their counterparts on the West Coast. Perhaps, then, it's more effective to pay guards a decent salary on the front end and hire enough people to do the job. California prison guards make double what they're paid in Texas, though their cost of living is higher.
Better staffing appears to be a key part of the solution: there's a one guard per 5.28 inmate ratio in California versus a one guard per 7.03 inmate ratio in Texas. That plus higher pay, better screening for job applicants, and stricter oversight procedures (including pat downs for guards as they enter the gates) are all more effective ways to keep contraband out.
Twenty percent is a lot for TDCJ to ask for increasing prison staff pay all at once, but the best argument for giving them so big a boost is just what Paco said - it "enhances professionalism, security, [and] retention rates," plus it's probably the only way to dig TDCJ out of its staffing hole and fill those 3,000 empty guard slots.
RELATED: See initial MSM coverage of yesterday's hearing: